Most who fell within the target audience for Home Alone back in 1990 have at least a passing memory of The Good Son (1993), that famously turbulent production in which 12-year-old megastar Macaulay Culkin went way against type as psychopathic pre-teen Henry Evans. Or not against type, if you really think about what he did to Harry and Marv. It's best described as "a Hallmark movie's evil twin": one whose beautiful cinematography, emotional music, and decent acting can't manage to hide all the seams in a hastily re-written and compromised script. Still, this tale of troubled young Henry (Culkin), unsuspecting cousin Mark (Elijah Wood), and Henry's oblivious parents Susan and Wallace (Wendy Crewson and Daniel Hugh Kelly) is a shade better than Roger Ebert's scathing review would have you believe.
Originally written by acclaimed English novelist Ian McEwan, The Good Son's early production was promising: attached names included director Michael Lehmann and Mary Steenburgen (as Henry's mother), with shooting scheduled to begin in late 1991. But trouble was brewing, and soon enough the Culkin family---headed by patriarch Kit, who held plenty of clout in Hollywood due to his son's massive success---lobbied for Macaulay in the lead role to broaden his acting resume, even threatening to pull him from Home Alone 2 if demands weren't met. The studio agreed and several members of the cast and crew were shuffled around due to scheduling conflicts or protests (including Joseph Ruben, brought in to replace Lehmann as director), with young Elijah Wood being one of the more promising new arrivals.
The Good Son is a shocking film for obvious reasons---attempted murder, actual murder, etc., all done by a 12-year-old---and while it's unsentimental view of childhood is somewhat refreshing, the "suspension of belief" factor makes everything feel even more manipulative. We're given no explanation for Henry's behavior, aside from the suggestion that his deceased younger brother might've taken the spotlight as a baby. Nor are the adults at all suspicious of their son's actions, even after a deadly series of events should have raised at least one red flag or warranted a police investigation. The parents' obliviousness is especially unbelievable, given the tragic reasons why Mark's staying with them in the first place. The resulting combination of Henry's raw, unfiltered behavior and uncanny ability to get away with almost all of it leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and even more so when you factor in the film's mutinous production.
It's a tough film to enjoy from a screenwriting standpoint, but obviously a well-made one in other respects. The beautiful New England landscapes elevate The Good Son to greater heights---as does Elmer Bernstein's sweeping score---and the performances are largely committed from top to bottom (Culkin and Wood, not surprisingly, carry most of the weight). Joseph Ruben, who already covered similar territory in The Stepfather and Sleeping with the Enemy, refines some of the rougher edges and sets the film's tone very quickly. The end result is certainly unique and, while I can't say I've ever enjoyed this film, it's got a few merits that make it worth investigating. Kino's new Blu-ray package offers a modest amount of support, including a decent A/V presentation and a handful of surprising new bonus features.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
The last time I saw The Good Son was on VHS...and though it's pretty clear that Kino's new Blu-ray is sourced from a DVD master at least a decade old, the end result is still more than passable. Quite impressive in spots, even. I'll give most of the credit to outstanding cinematography by John Lindley (who previously collaborated with director Joseph Ruben on The Stepfather, True Believer, and Sleeping with the Enemy): The Good Son was obviously shot with great care and Kino's Blu-ray amplifies some of the film's obvious visual highlights and great location footage. This 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer features a clean and stable image that's largely free of digital imperfections such as interlacing, compression artifacts, and excessive noise reduction, although some mild edge enhancement was spotted. Image detail and textures are pleasing (especially during outdoor scenes), the subdued color palette holds up nicely, light grain is present, and black levels look good. A fresh scan would have yielded even better results, but I'm not disappointed.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized promotional images are decorative and do not represent the title under review.
Likewise, the DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track makes good use of its source material. The Good Son sounds fairly strong at times with crisp dialogue and well-balanced effects and music, not to mention decent separation that gives certain scenes a wide-open atmosphere. Low end is limited but occasionally noticeable. One small defect was spotted about six minutes in, in which the left channel's volume drops momentarily; luckily, this problem doesn't return anywhere else in the film. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature, but none of the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Kino's clean interface includes options for playback, chapter selection (there are eight), and bonus features. This one-disc release arrives in a standard case with reversible, poster-themed cover artwork and a promotional booklet.
Three brand new Video Interviews
with five members of the film's cast and crew make up the bulk of the extras. First up are director Joseph Ruben and cinematographer John Lindley (23 minutes), who shed light on their early careers, jumping into The Good Son
, location shooting and atmosphere, changing the story, Neverland Ranch, working with the cast, and handling the difficult stunt sequences. Actors Wendy Crewson and Daniel Hugh Kelly (16 minutes) are up next; topics of discussion include auditioning, working with the director, "outside forces" during production, cliff climbing, other cast members, and more. Finally, actor David Morse (6 minutes) briefly talks about his childhood in nearby Cape Cod, family dynamics, "playing pretend", and filmmaking in Boston. It's great that we get first-hand input, but there are obviously a lot of pulled punches given the film's turbulent production and dramatic roster changes.
Also here is The Good Son's Theatrical Teaser (1 minute); it's advertised on disc as a trailer, but the one I'm familiar with is about a minute longer and contains a few glimpses of deleted scenes that sadly weren't included here.
The Good Son was a famously troubled production that underwent drastic changes during its five-year development...and for the most part, the end result is exactly as erratic as you'd expect. Luckily, there are still some highlights: director Joseph Ruben smooths over some of the film's rougher edges, cinematographer John Lindley captures lots of gorgeous location footage, and the cast does an admirable job of holding the rest of it together. But the core story was obviously re-written several times, and there's way too much suspension of disbelief involved to make The Good Son feel like much more than a Hallmark movie's evil twin. Kino's Blu-ray should appeal to die-hard fans and maybe even a few casual ones: it features a decent A/V presentation and a handful of cast/crew interviews which at least hint at some of the problems they inherited. Recommended to established fans, but first-timers should rent it.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.